On ‘Power Up’, it takes less than 20 seconds for AC/DC to deliver the heavy rock sound that was first pioneered by, well, AC/DC. “The moment you realize / Those moments just pass you by/ Gonna take you to paradise,” comes the familiar howl of frontman Brian Johnson, bolstered by the guitars of Angus Young, on the pummelling ‘Realise’.
It immediately sets the tone for what follows across the next 12 tracks – this 17th offering from the Australian legends sees them delivering a love letter to heavy rock at a time when, they reckon its unbridled power has arguably never been more in demand – Johnson recently told NME: “This year has been so bad and it’s a desperate time for everyone, but this record just brings across the sheer power of rock‘n’roll that other music can’t reach.
While that means it’s unlikely to win over many newcomers, AC/DC devotees will no doubt revel in the sheer joy of just hearing the band preaching to the choir once more after one of the most uncertain periods in their history – including the death of founder Malcolm Young in 2017. And, fittingly, Malcolm’s spirit looms large on the album; his brother Angus ensured the record featured the wide array of guitar ideas and riffs that he had cooked up with Angus in the preceding decades.
Take lead single ‘Shot In The Dark’, which immediately assumes its place among some of the band’s greatest efforts across a career spanning almost 50 years. “A shot in the dark, Make you feel alright”, comes Johnson’s message of much-needed positivity, wrapped around Angus Young’s masterful command Gibson SG. You feel like Malcolm would immediately approve.
In their ever-advancing years, it also appears that ‘Through The Mists of Time’, a measured highlight, is the closest thing we’ll get to AC/DC reflecting on the ever-present face of old father time. “See dark shadows / On the walls / “See the pictures / Some hang, some fall”, croons Johnson, conveying the feeling of a veteran rock band reflecting on their admirable ability to weather a storm.
Elsewhere, a strong mid-section sees them successfully leaning on heavy rock’s love of the occult to provide some of the album’s biggest and most infectious choruses. “Demon fire, it’s all you desire,” Johnson gleefully screams on ‘Demon Fire’, one of the record’s most frenetic tracks – and one which highlights the powerhouse drums of returning sticksman Phil Rudd.
As with all good AC/DC albums, the band’s commitment to unrelenting silliness on this record cannot be ignored either – even if you sense that they are in on the increasingly surreal images they present. On ‘Wild Reputation’, Johnson presents himself as a rank outsider in a Western town. Ennio Morricone it ain’t, but there’s something undeniably hilarious about the image of Johnson, now 73, as a no-nonsense cowboy.
At turns, the record is also unremittingly filthy too, particularly on late effort ‘Money Shot’ – which is about as subtle as that title would suggest. “Lady, just try the money shot / Best taken when hot”, Johnson growls. The inference is clear, although you can’t really fault them for sticking to their recognisable brand of rock and roll excess (in our interview, Johnson admitted to NME that the word ‘woke’ just isn’t part of the band’s vocabulary.
But by the time things wrap up on ‘Code Red’, which sees the band firing on all cylinders, it becomes clear that their steadfast refusal to adapt or change is no bad thing. While far from a reinvention of the wheel, ‘Power Up’ is a joyous celebration of the unbridled heavy rock that has served them well for almost 50 years and, we can hope, a unifying cry for the future.
“I’m hoping this album will make young kids go out and buy a guitar, learn the riffs and discover the rest of our catalogue,” Brian Johnson told us. While it remains to be seen if they’ll heed his words, this album proves that it won’t be through lack of trying on AC/DC’s part. This is, all considered, a kick up the arse at a time when we need it the most.
Release date: November 13
Record label: Columbia